Recent Comments

Miss Yvonne in the bath
Linda Levitt

Thanks, Nedda, for providing the term to describe this remix of video clips, and the idea of using the supercut as an argument is delightful. I’m also reminded of Cory Doctorow’s book Pirate Cinema.

Your post gets me thinking about the relationship between innuendo, humor, and performance. I wonder if kids who watch Pee-wee might feel like they are in on the joke because of the nonverbal behavior that accompanies innuendo, even if the joke itself is elusive. The exaggerated physicality of Pee-wee’s world might also be part of the mix.

Linda Levitt

Thanks, Kevin…the movements you describe add support to the idea of worldmaking.

Pee-Wee's Bride
Kevin L. Ferguson

I love that you point to the fruit salad marriage as one of the central queer moments of the show. On it’s own I agree that it’s a totally silly, “fruity,” campy (Carmen Miranda anyone?) scene. But I also think there’s a bit of aggressive comeuppance underlying the impromptu wedding. Of course Pee-Wee has been driving people crazy with his running joke: Someone: “I love X.” Pee-Wee: “Then why don’t you marry it?” And now Pee-Wee himself has the tables turned. Is his hand forced? His joke has been pointing to a pretend congruence between “loving” something and “marrying” it, implicitly suggesting that people don’t really “love” things unless they’re willing to submit to marriage. Love sets a pretty high bar for Pee-Wee, unless we read the fruit salad wedding as a change of heart.

Kevin L. Ferguson

I’m not sure how to make sense of this, but the fact that the show is framed by an “entering” and “exiting” of the Playhouse seems relevant to the idea of worldmaking. The show opens with a sign and jungle noises as the camera wanders through a idyllic landscape before the manic theme song. And of course the closing credits has Pee-Wee blast out of the house on his scooter, riding off into chroma key sunset. Viewers can see how much the Playhouse is markedly different—“exclusive” as you say—from the “natural” world outside with forest and woodland animals running around. It’s also a little hard to find and secluded (especially after the beaver chews down the direction sign!), making it an excellent place for experimentation.

Adam Cottrel

Craig, thanks for your thoughtful response. I hadn’t considered the dubbing or the drive-in premiere in that context, but I couldn’t agree more after considering it. The commercial film “Pee-Wee” we see at the end also seems to me to parody the Reagan era action thrillers concerned with anxieties over the Cold War and alternative culture more generally. Obviously there is a strong statement being made here concerning commercial storytelling/filmmaking that squares with what we would learn only later about Burton and Reubens. As Pee-Wee says to Dottie (Elizabeth Daily) toward the end, “I don’t need to see it [the movie] Dottie, I lived it.”

I’m glad you brought up Francis though, as I think he is often too easily overlooked in this film. I agree that we do see the other side of the coin here, so to speak, as it concerns motivation and desire. Part of what seems to separate the two, for me, is that Francis’ jealousy appears to be predicated on Pee-Wee’s authenticity. That is, Pee-Wee has made his world of play where Francis’ world was paid for by his father. Francis says to Pee-Wee upon their first meeting in the film concerning his proposition to purchase the bike: “My father says ‘everything’s negotiable,’ Pee-Wee.” Here, we have two figures who appear to be equals, whether we want to call them children or adults. But the difference is that Pee-Wee plays within the limits of childhood, where Francis seems very much to be a child leveraging the power of adulthood. One reason Pee-Wee doesn’t take the money is that money has no meaning to him, whereas Francis’ entire life is designed to be run by it. Even when he steals the bike, he pays a hired thug to do his dirty work for him.

Ultimately, if I had the chance to expand this piece into something longer, I’d suggest that the very question concerning imagination hinges on the commercial nature of art, dreams, and play we see unfold throughout Burton’s first feature effort.

Craig Martin

Adam I have appreciated reading your contributions to the previous excellent posts, along with your own curatorial addition. Like you, my enjoyment of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is insatiable. One of the most curious moments of the film for me is the final sequence in which all the characters come together at the Drive-In to watch the premiere of Pee-Wee’s story adapted into a film. It is. as you mention, a joyous homage to Fellini’s 8 1/2 (Rowan Atkinson’s charming film Mr Bean’s Holiday is similarly full of nods to postwar European art cinema). Pee-Wee’s cameo and one line in the film-within-the-film has his voice dubbed over (more Italian cinema playfulness?) so that the child-like squeakiness of Pee Wee is replaced by a smooth, albeit generic, male baritone. Meanwhile the role of Pee Wee is assumed by the manly James Brolin and the bicycle is replaced with a hi-tech motorbike. Here Paul Ruben and Tim Burton seem to be critiquing the type of contemporary mainstream cinema that sensationalises stories based on true events, reducing them to bland box office fodder. In the process, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure manages to marginalise mainstream cinema by normalising queer. The Brolin version of Pee Wee is dull in comparison to the real deal.

Your comments concerning the rift between the real and our dreams are compelling and aptly applies to Pee-Wee’s advice to Simone (“everyone has a big but”) to pursue her dreams. The chasm between the real and dreams, childhood and adulthood reminds me of another film that plays with similar themes, Big, starring Tom Hanks. Like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Hanks’ Josh in Big gets to have his cake and eat it, too, albeit briefly. Effortlessly infiltrating the world of adults, Josh scores an executive role in a toy company with the sole task of playing with toys and determining their entertainment value. It’s a short-lived episode as he soon embraces the complexities of adulthood, threatening to leave behind his carefree child self entirely until he determines to return to his child’s body. I mention Big because the sequence in which Hanks as Josh moves into an apartment and furnishes it with toys and games a la Pee-Wee are some of the most enjoyable moments in the film. Unlike Josh, who ultimately can only be one or the other, man or child, Pee-Wee gets to unapologetically have the best of both worlds all the time, which includes never having to take anything seriously, seeing the best in others and encouraging them to see it also, and always finding a way out of any problem (including how to cook breakfast!).

A question: what do you make of the character of Francis (played by Mark Hotton)? Pee-Wee’s altercations with Francis are some of the funniest moments in the film. Francis strikes me as being Pee-Wee’s alter-ego. He is like Pee-Wee in many respects except that he is moody, brattish, selfish and still lives at home with his wealthy indulgent father. I get the sense that Francis wants to be Pee-Wee and in this sense, Francis represents how child audiences might view Pee-Wee as the childish fantasy of adulthood in which grown ups can do anything they like, accomplish anything they set their minds to and be anything they want to be. Pee-Wee is independent yet care-free, and Francis’ desire to “be” Pee-Wee is what motivates the bicycle theft. Francis is the child who doesn’t grow up because it is his father who keeps him in a state of arrested development, indulging his every whim. He is incapable of taking any pleasure in life or applying his imagination, while this is all Pee-Wee does. Indeed, Pee-Wee, like a child, takes pleasure in seeing the world through innocent, fun-loving eyes and encourages others to look through the same lens.

Pee-Wee's whip cream shave
Linda Levitt

The aesthetic of the playhouse is quite fascinating—there’s a recent trend to recover mid-century Modernist style, and I can see quite a lot of that in the playhouse too (decades ahead of and behind the times, simultaneously). There’s something slightly off about a lot of what’s in the playhouse, like the fish with both eyes on one side and the put-togetherness of Conky. It’s imaginative and somehow maintains a kid-made sensibility. In the same way that Pee-wee looks both forward and back, could he be creator and consumer, tinkering with sophisticated technologies to make them his own?

Linda Levitt

Adam, this is such a rich idea. I’m thinking about how some public expressions of queerness have been perceived as “in-your-face” as declarations and demands for acknowledgement. Those performances are easy to find faulty. Yet Pee-wee’s assertions of “We’re here, we’re queer” are playful in ways that render them difficult to argue against.

Pee-Wee's Bride
Adam Cottrel

Daniel, thanks for your thoughts on this really interesting moment. I’m struck by how your thoughts relate to both Kevin’s and Linda’s, first the literalization of the word play of Pee-Wee’s joke, and second the relationship to Pee-Wee and his acting out of adulthood.

The other thought that comes to mind relates to my own post later this week, which concerns the lasting impression Pee-Wee has made on us and the continued fascination this character has over us. I’m curious if you think Pee-Wee’s queerness is somehow related to this odd sense of nostalgia we might be having as it concerns these moments?

Pee-Wee's whip cream shave
Kevin L. Ferguson

Thanks for your comment Adam; I’m looking forward to reading your post this week. The idea of Pee-Wee’s playhouse as self-contained domestic space is interesting. I’d guess that some of it comes out of a camp version of 1950s jet-age futurism (à la the Nixon-Khrushchev “Kitchen Debate”)? The fantastic auto-breakfast-machine you mention also calls to mind the similar opening scene of Back to the Future (released the same year as Big Adventure), where Doc’s Rube Goldberg-esque morning routine has gone haywire in his absence: burnt toast, coffee pouring on the ground, overflowing dog food bowl (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3isQI0nXQRE). In Back to the Future, viewers understand Doc is a bit of a crackpot, but are we supposed to understand Pee-Wee as the inventor behind his successful fantastic devices? Or is he more a consumer: taking advantage of a technologically-mediated environment that can replace parents?